Applied Psychology OPUS

Teacher-Student Conflict and Student Aggression in Kindergarten

Emily Gallagher


Early behavior problems are important aspects of schooling and difficulties in this area predict lower high school grade point average, negative attitudes towards school, disruptive, anti-social behaviors and higher dropout rates. Aggression is a particularly harmful aspect of behavior problems and early aggression is predictive of future aggression, delinquency and criminal activity. The early years of schooling provide a unique opportunity to shift the trajectories of behaviorally disruptive students before the problems affect later development. Early academic skills may be a protective factor against behavioral problems but little is known about how behavior problems, teacher student relationships, and early literacy skills interact in young students. The current study examines associations and interactions between academic achievement, behavior problems, and teacher-student relationships in a sample of kindergarteners from high poverty urban schools (N = 332, 51% male, 75% black). Preliminary analysis showed that teacher-student conflict at the beginning of kindergarten predicted student aggression at the end of kindergarten. Literacy skills at the beginning of kindergarten moderated this effect, magnifying the positive association between teacher-student conflict and aggression. Results are discussed in relation to early interventions to improve teacher-student relationships and student behavior problems in the early years.

Early behavior problems are critical to the future academic and social development of students. Behavior problems in the first three years of elementary school lead to disruptive and anti-social behaviors, low academic achievement, and higher than expected dropout rates in high school. A common behavior problem in the early years is aggression. Childhood aggression in school is highly predictive of maladaptive outcomes through adolescence, such as delinquency, substance abuse, under-achievement, and school dropout (Hughes & Cavell, 1999). Given the profound and predictable effect of childhood aggression, researchers have developed and studied early interventions to prevent and reduce aggressive behavior in the early school years (Bierman & Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group, 1999; Ialongo, Poduska, Werthamer, & Kellam, 2001; Webster-Stratton, Reid & Hammond, 2001; 2004). One factor that may be a key lever in effective interventions is students’ relationships with their teachers. A large body of research details how behavior problems are associated with concurrent and subsequent teacher-student conflict (Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Hughes & Cavell, 1999; O’Connor, Dearing & Collins, 2011). However, little research aims to examine the other direction, how teacher-student relationships may influence the most detrimental of students’ behavioral outcomes—aggression.

Guided by ecological systems and attachment theories, the current study aims to investigate the associations between teacher-student relationships, academic skills, and aggressive behavior. School is one of the most important settings for students in the early years, and classrooms are the principal environment through which young children experience schools. Teachers are the primary non-familial adult in students’ lives, with relationships between students and teachers critical to students’ early school experiences (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998; Bowlby, 1969; McCormick, O’Connor, Cappella & McClowry, 2013). The level of support or conflict in the relationship between a teacher and student depends on many factors, including the child’s early academic skills and behaviors (Hughes & Kwok, 2007; Hughes, Lou, Kwok & Loyd, 2008). Supportive relationships between teachers and students lead to more positive behavioral outcomes for students over time (Hamre & Pianta, 2001; O’Connor et al, 2011). Teacher-student relationships may be especially important for low-income children because they tend to be at greater risk for significant behavioral and academic risk than children from higher-income areas (O’Donnell, Hawkins, Catelano, Abbott & Day, 1995). The current study aims to extend what is known about the teacher-student relationship and aggressive behavior in a sample of kindergarten students from urban, low-income schools, and examine the role of early academic skills in the associations between teacher-student relationships and aggression over one academic year.

Role of Early Behavior Problems in Development

Behavior problems in kindergarten are often overlooked, yet they are important in children’s development. Behavior problems in kindergarten include aggressive behavior towards others (hitting, fighting), oppositional and emotional behavior (emotional outbursts, disobeying rules), and attention problems (trouble paying attention, not finishing tasks; Eyberg & Pincus, 1999). Early behavior problems not only have negative consequences for students’ current academic achievement, relationships with teachers, and social-emotional development, but also predict subsequent maladaptive outcomes (see Hinshaw et al., 1992). For example, inattention in early childhood remains stable through middle childhood and predicts anti-social behavior, aggression, and peer ostracism (Hinshaw, 1992; Hinshaw et al., 1992; Hinshaw & Melnick, 1995). Early aggression is especially problematic for young students. Many studies have found that early aggression is highly predictive of later aggression in elementary, middle, and high school (Broidy et. al., 2003; Nagin & Tremblay, 1999; Sutton, Cowen, Crean, Wyman & Work, 1999). Because early aggression is so predictive of future maladaptive behavior, early aggression may be one of the most harmful forms of early behavior problems in the classroom (Broidy et. al., 2003; Nagin & Tremblay, 1999; Sutton et. al. 1999).

The persistence of early behavior problems has been explained by developmental cascade theory (Masten & Cicchetti, 2010). Theorists suggest early behavior problems in the first year of schooling have cascading consequences that negatively affect subsequent school success and psychosocial functioning. Interventions that target behavioral problems at a young age in an attempt to stop the negative cascade have proven effective. One such intervention is the Good Behavior Game (GBG; Embry, 2002). Longitudinal studies examining the impact of the GBG (Embry, 2002), a group contingency classroom management system, on children identified as “at risk” for disruptive behavior problems find reductions in aggression among sixth graders exposed to the GBG in early elementary school (Ialongo et al., 2001). In a randomized control trial with 700 first graders from 19 urban elementary schools, Dolan and colleagues (1993) reported significant declines in aggressive behavior among students in classrooms using the GBG.
Teacher-Student Relationships and Early Behavior Problems

Teachers play an important role in the trajectory of students, especially in the early years (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998; McCormick et al., 2013). Teachers have the unique opportunity to provide support to decrease or help prevent behavior problems (Baker, Grant & Morlock, 2008; Bronfenbrenner, 1979). One way to do so is through relationships with students. Based in attachment theory, high quality teacher-student relationships are posited to provide security and support to students through the provision of closeness, warmth, and positivity (Pianta, 2001). Research also suggests teacher-student relationships may provide a model for appropriate behaviors as well as scaffolding for necessary social and behavioral skills (Baker, 2006; O’Connor et al., 2011; Silver, Measelle, Armstron & Essex, 2005).

In fact, positive teacher student relationships cannot only lead to positive outcomes for students; they can also change trajectories of students facing risk (Meehan, Hughes & Cavell, 1999).  A national study of kindergarten and first graders found that a positive teacher-student relationship significantly changed trajectories for students with early internalizing or externalizing behavior (O’Connor et al., 2011). Similarly, Hamre and Pianta (2001) found that behaviorally at-risk kindergarten students who had low levels of conflict with teachers were at a lower risk for disciplinary action and suspension through eighth grade when compared to their at-risk peers with high conflict with teachers.

In contrast, conflictual relationships are negatively associated with student outcomes, most notably in the realm of behaviors. Teacher-student conflict is characterized by hostile and negative interactions that lack warmth (Pianta, 2001). One study examining the bidirectionality of the relationship between teacher-student conflict and aggression in kindergarten found that children’s aggressive behavior at the beginning of kindergarten led to increases in teacher-child conflict midyear, which in turn led to an increase in aggression at the end of the kindergarten school year (Doumen, Verschueren, Buyse, Germeijs, Luyckx & Soenens, 2008).

Students who have conflictual relationships with teachers have less social and academic support from teachers and peers (Baker et al., 2008). Teachers spend notably less one-on-one time with students with whom they experience conflict (Baker et al., 2008). Because students who have conflict with teachers spend less time with teachers, they can miss out on important behavioral and academic scaffolding (Baker, 2006; O’Connor et al., 2011; Silver et al., 2005). The time students and teachers in conflictual relationships spend with one another is often characterized by hostility, anger, and punishment as opposed to warmth and support (Hughes & Cavell, 1999; Mantzicopoulos, 2005). In the absence of warmth and support, students may not have an appropriate model for exploring positive relationships or engaging in prosocial behaviors (Birch & Ladd, 1998; Mantzicopoulos, 2005). Continued criticism and punishment from teachers may strengthen the cycle of student anti-social behavior, thus leading students with high teacher conflict to develop further problematic behaviors (Birch & Ladd, 1998).  

Teacher-student conflict also relates to students’ interactions with peers. As early as preschool, children with a more supportive and less conflictual relationship with teachers are significantly more accepted by peers (Chang, 2003; Hughes, Cavell & Wilson, 2001). In fact, in the early years of school, students’ peer acceptance has been more highly correlated with peer-observed teacher-student relationship quality than with peer-observed behaviors. This suggests that peer acceptance may be more influenced by teachers’ interactions with the child than with the actual behaviors of the child (Chan, 2003; Hughes et al., 2001; Hughes & Kwok, 2006).

The effects of peer rejection on aggression have been the topic of research for many years (e.g., Dodge et. al., 2003). The general consensus after years of research is that early peer rejection is highly predictive of aggression later in life (e.g., Chang, 2003; Dodge, Coie & Lyman, 2006; Dodge et al., 2003; MacDonald & Leary, 2005; McDougall, Hymel & Vaillancourt, 2001). The association between teacher-student conflict and peer rejection may further lead to behavioral problems and aggression in students with high conflict (Chang, 2003; Dodge et al., 2003; Hughes, Cavell & Wilson, 2001; Hughes & Kwok, 2006). The combination of a lack of social-emotional support, hostile interactions with the teacher, and peer rejection may be key factors in why teacher-student conflict is associated with behavioral problems for young students.

Academic Achievement, Teacher-Student Relationships, and Behavior Problems

Similar to the negative behavioral outcomes associated with teacher-student conflict, academic achievement is also associated with problem behaviors in students. There is an evident cyclical association between behavior problems and academic achievement (Bussing, Porter, Zima, Mason, Garvan & Reid, 2012; Pointz, Rimm-Kaufman, Grimm & Curby, 2009). Students with difficulties following the teacher’s instructions, maintaining attention, and organizing themselves have been shown to have significantly poorer academic achievement than would be predicted based on intellectual ability (Bussing et al., 2012; Frazier, Youngstrom, Glutting & Watkins, 2007; Pointz et. al. 2009). One study of kindergarteners found that students with inattention and disruptive behavior in the classroom perform as much as two thirds of a standard deviation below their non-disruptive peers in both reading and math (Bussing et al., 2012; Frazier et al., 2007; Pointz et. al. 2009).

Although there are large bodies of research on the effects of teacher-student relationships on behavioral outcomes and on the effects of academic achievement on behavioral problems, there is little research that examines associations and interactions between teacher-student relationships, academic achievement, and behavioral problems. This lack of research is particularly important when considering children at high risk during their kindergarten year of elementary school including children attending urban, low-income schools. Risk and resilience theories might suggest that children’s competence in one domain – such as academic achievement – might protect children against the negative effects of risk in another domain – such as high conflict relationships, but this is not clear. We might expect that students with higher academic skills who are struggling in their relationships with their teachers might be less likely to have relational difficulties manifested through behavioral difficulties with peers such as aggression (Fraser, 1997; Gabardino, 1982), but we do not know this for sure.  Therefore, study of these relationships is critical.  

Current Study

The current study answers three questions regarding the relations and interactions of behavior problems, academic achievement, and teacher-student relationships. The first replicates prior research. The second question extends prior research to examine the specific effects of teacher-student conflict on student aggression. Finally, the third question examines the potential protective role of academic achievement against the detrimental effects of teacher-student conflict on student aggression in kindergarten.
1. What are the associations between teacher-student relationship quality, student aggression in school, and academic achievement in a sample of low-income minority kindergarteners?
2. Does teacher-student conflict at the beginning of kindergarten (Time 1) predict student aggression at the end of kindergarten (Time 2) beyond prior levels of academic achievement and individual student characteristics (e.g., gender, parent education)?
3. Does academic skill level at the beginning of kindergarten (Time 1) moderate the association between teacher-student conflict and student aggression (Time 2) beyond prior levels of academic achievement and individual student characteristics?


This study uses participants from the INSIGHTS (2008) efficacy trial, a school-randomized study of a temperament-based intervention for kindergarten and first graders. The participants from this study are kindergarten students from control group schools.

This study includes kindergarten students (N = 332) and teachers (N = 60) from 22 elementary schools in three urban school districts. Students ranged from ages 4 to 7 (M = 5.38, SD = 0. 61). Overall, 51% of the students were male. Most were black (75%) and Hispanic (17%), with 8% biracial or other. Nearly all students qualified for the New York City free lunch program (87%). Among teachers, nearly all were female (97%) and identified as black (55.4%), Hispanic (12.3%), white (26.3%), or Asian or biracial (6%).

This study used two teacher-reported quantitative measures and one standardized student assessment. Measures were completed in the late fall (time 1: T1) and late spring (time 2: T2) of one school year. A parent-reported demographic survey at T1 was used for covariates (child age, child race/ethnicity, child gender, parent age, and parent education).
Teacher-student relationship. Teacher-student relationship quality was measured using the Student-Teacher Relationship Quality Scale (STRS; Pianta 2001). The STRS is a 15 item measure using a 5 point Likert scale (“1 - definitely does not apply” to “5 - definitely applies”). The scale measures both closeness and conflict. Teachers are asked to rate how applicable various statements are to their current relationship with a student. The conflict subscale (current study Cronbach’s alpha = .87) measures hostility and antagonism.  High scores indicate larger amounts of conflict.  

Academic achievement. The Woodcock Johnson III Test of Achievement Form B (WJIII) was used to measure reading and math academic achievement (Woodcock, McGrew & Mathers, 2001). The Letter-Word ID was used to assess reading achievement by asking kindergarten students to identify letters and words. The WJIII correlates with measures of cognitive ability (rs = .66 to .73 with Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-Revised; Wechsler, 1989) and has good internal consistency (alphas from .80 to .90 in the literature). A raw score of 15 is considered 50th percentile for students who are 5 years of age.

Behavior problems. Student behavior problems were assessed by the Sutter-Eyberg Student Behavior Inventory (SESBI, Sutter &Eyberg, 1984), a teacher reported behavior inventory and severity scale.  The SESBI is a 36-item two part scale:  (1) a seven point Likert occurrence scale in which the teacher reports how often a behavior occurs:  and, (2) a “yes” or “no” problem scale in which teachers indicate if the behavior is problematic. In this study, alphas were .98 and .97 respectively. The inventory is divided into four subscales based on types of behavior, including attention problems, overt aggression towards others, covert aggression towards others, and oppositional / emotional behavior. Given the young age of the students and research suggesting risks associated with aggression, the current study uses the overt aggression subscale. The overt aggression subscale includes such items as hits or kicks others, verbally threatens to hurt others in order to get what they want, and ruins peers things when they are upset. This subscale has been used to measure aggression in young children in previous research (McClowry, Snow, Tamis-LeMonda, & Rodriguez, 2009).  

Data Analysis Plan
Key variables include the predictor variables – teacher-student conflict and letter-word ID – as well as the outcome variable – student aggression. Prior to the primary analyses, each variable’s distribution was examined. Non-normal distributions were found for Time 1 and 2 teacher-student conflict as well as Time 2 aggression. To correct for significant skewness, the square root of these variables was calculated and used in subsequent analyses.

The first research question, investigating the relationships between demographic variables and the variables of interest was addressed using simple bivariate correlations. Research questions two and three address the relationship between teacher-student conflict at time 1 and aggression at time 2, as well as the interaction effect of teacher-student conflict at T1 and letter-word ID at T1 on aggression at time 2. These two questions were addressed using a regression analysis. Both questions were run as one model, the demographic variables (child age, child black, child male, parental age, and parental education) and T1 aggressive behavior were entered as covariates. Independent variables were T1 letter-word identification and T1 teacher-student conflict, as well as an interaction term between T1 teacher-student conflict and T1 letter-word identification was added. Robust standard errors accounted for nesting in the data (children in classrooms) and independent variables were centered prior to inclusion in the models and calculation of the interaction term.

Kindergarten students’ aggressive behavior at both time points was relatively low (T1 M = 1.47 SD = .41, T2 M = 1.59, SD = .43). Teacher-student conflict was also relatively low (T1 M = 1.30, SD = .32; T2 M = 1.31, SD = .33). Standardized literacy skill scores on the Woodcock-Johnson Letter -Word ID were about average for the student population at T1 (M = 17.32, SD = 7.40). Slightly higher scores were recorded at T2 (M = 21.66, SD = 7.83).

The first research question explored associations among the main variables of interest at T1 and T2 (letter-word ID, aggression, teacher-student conflict, teacher-student closeness). Several significant correlations were found. Notably, T1 student aggression was significantly and positively correlated with T1 teacher-student conflict (r = .73, p < .05) and T2 teacher-student conflict (r = .65, p < .05). Similarly, T2 student aggression was positively correlated with T1 teacher-student conflict (r = .59, p < .05) and T2 teacher-student conflict (r = .78, p < .05). In addition, T1 letter-word and T2 letter -word were highly positively correlated (r = .74, p < .05) (see Table 2).

Research question two focused on whether teacher-student conflict at the beginning of kindergarten significantly predicted overt aggression at the end of kindergarten. A multiple regression analysis run with demographic variables entered as covariates found that higher levels of conflict between teachers and students at the beginning of kindergarten predicted higher levels of overt aggression at the end of kindergarten (b = .06, p = .04). Associations between demographic variables (gender, race, and parental age) and aggression were found as well (see Table 3).
Finally, research question three investigated the interaction between teacher-student conflict at T1 and letter-word ID at T1 on aggression at T2. Entered into the same regression model as research question two, the interaction was significant and positive (b = .01, p < .05). In other words, letter-word ID scores magnified the association between fall teacher-student conflict and spring levels of aggression (see Figure 1). Simple slope analyses found that the association between teacher-student conflict and aggressive behavior was statistically significant for students with high literacy at T1 (b = .10, p < .01) and medium literacy at T1 (b = .06, p =.04). For students with low literacy at T1 there was no association between teacher-student conflict and aggressive behavior.


The results of this study replicate and extend prior research. Overall, several findings are notable. First, teacher-student conflict is strongly related to student aggression in the kindergarten classroom, both within and across time. Second, teacher-student conflict at the beginning of kindergarten is predictive of student aggression at the end of kindergarten. Finally, although literacy at the beginning of kindergarten was expected to protect against the relationship between teacher-student conflict and student aggression, students with high literacy skills and high teacher-student conflict had the highest levels of aggression.  
The associations between teacher-student conflict and student aggression as well as the predictive nature of teacher-student conflict at the beginning of kindergarten on aggression at the end of kindergarten add to an already existing body of literature. There is significant research supporting the importance of the teacher-student relationship to the social-emotional and academic well-being of students (Baker, 2006; Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998; McCormick et al., 2013; O’Connor et al., 2011; Silver et al., 2005). However the majority of this research focuses on the relationship between positive teacher-student relationships and positive social emotional behavioral and academic outcomes.

Teachers are uniquely able to provide support to students to learn appropriate behaviors and prevent problem behaviors (Baker et al., 2008; Bronfenbrenner, 1979). Positive teacher student relationships provide scaffolding for necessary social and behavioral skills (Baker, 2006; O’Connor et al., 2011; Silver et al., 2005). Conflictual relationships may be related to learning or continuing maladaptive behaviors (Baker, 2006; O’Connor et al., 2011; Silver et al., 2005). Although this has been supported in previous studies (Baker, 2006; O’Connor et al., 2011; Silver et al., 2005), fewer studies have looked at the direct relationships between teacher-student conflict and various outcomes (Birch & Ladd, 1998; Hughes & Cavell, 1999; Mantzicopoulos, 2005). The findings here add an important new piece to the literature supporting the importance of the teacher-student relationship on behavioral outcomes.

This study, unlike others, investigated the direct and specific connections between conflict with teachers and overt aggression across the first year of elementary school, and shows that teacher-student conflict at the beginning of kindergarten is directly related to student aggression at the end of kindergarten. These findings suggest that teacher-student conflict specifically predicts aggressive behavior above and beyond demographic characteristics and early behaviors and achievement. Students who have conflictual relationships with their teachers may miss out on the behavioral scaffolding teachers provide for students with whom they have a close and positive relationship. Teachers tend to spend significantly less one-on-one time with students they have conflict with; thus, these students do not receive the support and time their peers with close teacher-student relationships receive (Baker, 2006; Baker et al., 2008; Bronfenbrenner, 1979; O’Connor et al., 2011 Silver et al., 2005). Additionally, by missing this one-on-one time, students may not learn important lessons on how to interact effectively with others (Baker et al., 2008; Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Baker, 2006; O’Connor et al., 2011; Silver et al., 2005).

In addition to lacking appropriate interactions with teachers, students with conflictual relationships may miss out on appropriate relationships with peers. Teachers’ interactions with students may affect classmates’ perceptions, which may, in turn, affect students’ sociability with classmates. Conflictual interactions with teachers convey a lack of regard and may contribute to peer rejection (Chang, 2003; Dodge et. al., 2003; Hughes et al., 2001). Peer rejection is a significant risk factor for subsequent antisocial and aggressive behaviors. Thus, the combination of teacher-student conflict and peer rejection may be particularly harmful to young students (Chang, 2003; Dodge et al., 2003; Hughes & Cavell, 1999). This is a critical future avenue for research.

The second unique finding of the study is the interaction effect between teacher-student conflict and literacy skills on student aggression. Results show that students with high fall literacy skills as well as high fall teacher-student conflict have the highest levels of aggression in the spring of the kindergarten year. Previous literature suggests that early academic skills may protect students from negative relationships and aggressive behavior (Bussing et al., 2012; Frazier et al., 2007). However the results of this study contradict these earlier findings. One possible explanation is that students with high literacy skills are more susceptible to boredom (Bussing et al., 2012; Frazier et al., 2007). One of the main goals in kindergarten is the teaching of early literacy skills; students who enter kindergarten with high literacy skills may be disengaged when relearning skills they have already acquired. Studies find that students who are the most susceptible to boredom are more likely to engage in disruptive behavior than those who are less susceptible to boredom (Hunter & Csikszentmihalyi, 2003; Wasson, 1981), and students cope with boredom through behavioral means, including entertaining oneself during class time and acting out (Nett, Goetz, & Hall, 2011).

Importantly, however, the current study found no main effect of literacy skills on aggression. Instead, the positive association between fall levels of teacher-student conflict and spring levels of aggression was magnified for students with higher literacy skills. Because these students already have difficult relationships with their teachers, when faced with boredom, they may act out to entertain themselves because they are less concerned with how their behavior is perceived by their teacher (Skinner & Belmont, 1999; Teven & McCroskey, 1997).

Other explanations are possible as well. Students with higher literacy skills may be more frustrated by their negative relationship with their teacher than are students with lower literacy skills, leading to higher levels of aggressive behavior (Skinner & Belmont, 1999; Teven & McCroskey, 1997). Alternatively, given that the measure of aggressive behavior is teacher-reported, this result could demonstrate teachers’ higher expectations for students with higher literacy skills. Teachers may perceive higher levels of aggression among those students with both higher literacy skills and with whom they have conflict (Brophy, 1983; Jussim, 1986; Jussim & Harber, 2005). Given these unanticipated findings, more research is needed to clarify and interpret results.

Strengths and Limitations

The findings from this study contribute a better understanding of the independent and interactive relations between teacher-student relationships, literacy skills, and aggressive behavior among low-income kindergarten children. Specifically, results suggest teacher-student conflict matters for students’ aggressive behavior in kindergarten. In addition, students with high academic skills and high teacher-student conflict may be the most likely to display aggression in their classrooms. Both findings provide evidence of the predictors of student aggression in kindergarten classrooms. Evidence of predictors is important for researchers, interventionists, and policy makers because of the cascading effects of early aggression on later antisocial behaviors (Masten & Cicchetti, 2010; Sutton et al., 1999). The evidence in this study may help indicate which predictive factors to target when attempting to reduce or prevent early aggression in schools.

There are several study limitations to consider. First, two of the measures used in the study were teacher reported, which may lead to bias in the responses. A teacher who has high conflict with a student may be more likely to assess the student as having behavioral problems. In future research, an observed measure of behavioral problems can be used to ensure there is no reporter bias in the report of students’ behavior. Future studies could also use a triangulated measure of behavior problems and teacher-student relationships to explore these constructs from multiple points of view.

Second, a more rigorous analysis plan could be used. The data are nested in both classrooms and schools, meaning participants’ data are not independent. This study used robust standard errors to account for some of the nesting. Further research should use multilevel modeling to better account for the nesting and ensure the most robust and rigorous analysis. Similarly, the scores for aggression were significantly positively skewed. In the analysis, aggression at both time points was corrected for skewness thus making results more difficult to interpret.

Third, the study only measures aggression in one very specific setting – school. Although the measure is used to indicate overall behaviors, the reporting in this study is limited to the school setting. School-based aggression may not be associated with aggression in other settings, such as home. Similarly, although early aggression is predictive of later aggression and even delinquency, this may not be true for aggression limited to the school setting. Future research should look at aggression in multiple settings, specifically the school and home.

Finally, this study only looks at one specific aspect of behavioral disruption – overt aggression. Future research should examine other types of behavioral disruption, such as inattention or impulsivity. Similarly, testing effects on overall behavioral problems might be critical as the overall score might be most predictive of future negative outcomes for participants and have more important implications.

Aggression at a young age can be highly predictive of future aggressive behaviors thus making this study of particular interest to interventionists and policy makers. The findings here confirm previous results as well as extend the knowledge about the connection between teacher student conflict and students’ aggression (Doumen et. al., 2005; Hamre and Pianta, 2001; Hughes & Cavell, 1999; O’Connor et al., 2011; Mantzicopoulos, 2005). Taken together, these studies suggest that aggression at a young age should not be overlooked. A key aspect in addressing this issue may be early intervention for students who exhibit aggression. Low-income students may benefit particularly from early intervention because they exhibit higher levels of behavioral problems and aggression at a young age than students from middle-income backgrounds (O’Donnell et al., 1995). By addressing aggression at an early age, students may be more likely to change their aggressive behavior thus leading them off the path of aggression at older ages and possible delinquency.

Due to the predictive nature of teacher-student conflict on aggression, interventions targeting teacher-student conflict may be one place to start in the prevention of aggression. Interventions aimed at students and teachers with high teacher-student conflict may help reduce aggression for at-risk students. In addition to targeting conflict, interventions aimed at academically engaging higher achieving students in more challenging classroom activities may help reduce disruptive behaviors. School-based interventions aimed at the predictive factors in this study may be key in helping young students reduce their levels of aggression during the important early school years.


Baker, J. A. (2006). Contributions of teacher–child relationships to positive school adjustment during elementary school. Journal of School Psychology, 44(3), 211-229.

Baker, J. A., Grant, S., & Morlock, L. (2008). The teacher-student relationship as a developmental context for children with internalizing or externalizing behavior problems. School Psychology Quarterly, 23(1), 3.

Birch, S. H., & Ladd, G. W. (1998). Children’s interpersonal behaviors and the teacher–child relationship. Developmental Psychology, 34(5), 934.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment. New York: Basic Books, 1969.

Broidy, L. M., Nagin, D. S., Tremblay, R. E., Bates, J. E., Brame, B., Dodge, K. A., . . . Laird, R. (2003). Developmental trajectories of childhood disruptive behaviors and adolescent delinquency: A six-site, cross-national study. Developmental Psychology, 39(2), 222.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). Contexts of child rearing: Problems and prospects. American Psychologist, 34(10), 844.

Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. A. (1998). The ecology of developmental processes.

Brophy, J. E. (1983). Research on the self-fulfilling prophecy and teacher expectations. Journal of educational psychology, 75(5), 631.

Bussing, R., Porter, P., Zima, B. T., Mason, D., Garvan, C., & Reid, R. (2012). Academic Outcome Trajectories of Students With ADHD Does Exceptional Education Status Matter? Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 20(3), 131-143.

Chang, L. (2003). Variable effects of children’s aggression, social withdrawal, and prosocial leadership as functions of teacher beliefs and behaviors. Child Development, 74(2), 535-548.

Dodge, K. A., Coie, J. D., & Lynam, D. (2006). Aggression and antisocial behavior in youth. Handbook of Child Psychology,Dodge, K. A., Lansford, J. E., Burks, V. S., Bates, J. E., Pettit, G. S., Fontaine, R., & Price, J. M. (2003). Peer rejection and social information-processing factors in the development of aggressive behavior problems in children. Child Development, 74(2), 374-393.

Dolan, L. J., Kellam, S. G., Brown, C. H., Werthamer-Larsson, L., Rebok, G. W., Mayer, L. S., . . . Wheeler, L. (1993). The short-term impact of two classroom-based preventive interventions on aggressive and shy behaviors and poor achievement. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 14(3), 317-345.

Doumen, S., Verschueren, K., Buyse, E., Germeijs, V., Luyckx, K., & Soenens, B. (2008). Reciprocal relations between teacher–child conflict and aggressive behavior in kindergarten: A three-wave longitudinal study. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 37(3), 588-599.

Embry, D. D. (2002). The good behavior game: A best practice candidate as a universal behavioral vaccine. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 5(4), 273-297.

Eyberg, S. M., & Pincus, D. (1999). Eyberg child behavior inventory and sutter-eyberg student behavior inventory-revised: Professional manual Psychological Assessment Resources.

Fraser, M. W. (1997). Risk and resilience in childhood: An ecological perspective. Washington, DC: NASW press.

Frazier, T. W., Youngstrom, E. A., Glutting, J. J., & Watkins, M. W. (2007). ADHD and achievement: Meta-analysis of the child, adolescent, and adult literatures and a concomitant study with college students. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 40(1), 49-65.
Gabardino, J. (1982). Children and families in the social environment. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine

Hamre, B. K., & Pianta, R. C. (2001). Early teacher–child relationships and the trajectory of children’s school outcomes through eighth grade. Child Development, 72(2), 625-638.

Hinshaw, S. P. (1992). Externalizing behavior problems and academic underachievement in childhood and adolescence: Causal relationships and underlying mechanisms. Psychological Bulletin, 111(1), 127.

Hinshaw, S. P., Han, S. S., Erhardt, D., & Huber, A. (1992). Internalizing and externalizing behavior problems in preschool children: Correspondence among parent and teacher ratings and behavior observations. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 21(2), 143-150.

Hinshaw, S. P., & Melnick, S. M. (1995). Peer relationships in boys with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder with and without comorbid aggression. Development and Psychopathology, 7(04), 627-647.

Hughes, J. N., & Cavell, T. A. (1999). Influence of the teacher-student relationship in childhood conduct problems: A prospective study. Journal of clinical child psychology, 28(2), 173-184.

Hughes, J. N., Cavell, T. A., & Willson, V. (2001). Further support for the developmental significance of the quality of the teacher–student relationship. Journal of School Psychology, 39(4), 289-301.

Hughes, J., & Kwok, O. (2007). Influence of student-teacher and parent-teacher relationships on lower achieving readers’ engagement and achievement in the primary grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(1), 39.

Hughes, J., Lou, W., Kwok, O., & Loyd, L. (2008). Teacher-student support effortful, engagement, and achievement: a 3-year longitudinal study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 1-14.

Hunter, J. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2003). The positive psychology of interested adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 32(1), 27-35.

Ialongo, N., Poduska, J., Werthamer, L., & Kellam, S. (2001). The distal impact of two first-grade preventive interventions on conduct problems and disorder in early adolescence. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 9(3), 146-160.
Jussim, L. (1986). Self-fulfilling prophecies: A theoretical and integrative review. Psychological review, 93(4), 429.

Jussim, L., & Harber, K. D. (2005). Teacher expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies: Knowns and unknowns, resolved and unresolved controversies. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 9(2), 131-155.

MacDonald, G., & Leary, M. R. (2005). Why does social exclusion hurt? the relationship between social and physical pain. Psychological Bulletin, 131(2), 202.

Mantzicopoulos, P. (2005). Conflictual relationships between kindergarten children and their teachers: Associations with child and classroom context variables. Journal of School Psychology, 43(5), 425-442.

Masten, A. S., & Cicchetti, D. (2010). Developmental cascades. Development and Psychopathology, 22(03), 491-495.

McClowry, S. G., Snow, D. L., Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., & Rodriguez, E. T. (2010). Testing the efficacy of INSIGHTS on student disruptive behavior, classroom management, and student competence in inner city primary grades. School mental health, 2(1), 23-35.

McCormick, M. P., O’Connor, E. E., Cappella, E., & McClowry, S. G. (2013). Teacher–child relationships and academic achievement: A multilevel propensity score model approach. Journal of School Psychology, 51(5), 611-624.

McDougall, P., Hymel, S., Vaillancourt, T., & Mercer, L. (2001). The consequences of childhood peer rejection. Interpersonal Rejection, 213-247.

Meehan, B. T., Hughes, J. N., & Cavell, T. A. (2003). Teacher–student relationships as compensatory resources for aggressive children. Child Development, 74(4), 1145-1157.

Nagin, D., & Tremblay, R. E. (1999). Trajectories of boys’ physical aggression, opposition, and hyperactivity on the path to physically violent and nonviolent juvenile delinquency. Child Development, 70(5), 1181-1196.

Nett, U. E., Goetz, T., & Hall, N. C. (2011). Coping with boredom in school: An experience sampling perspective. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 36(1), 49-59.

O’Connor, E. E., Dearing, E., & Collins, B. A. (2011). Teacher-child relationship and behavior problem trajectories in elementary school. American Educational Research Journal, 48(1), 120-162.

O’Donnell, J., Hawkins, J. D., Catalano, R. F., Abbott, R., & Day, L. E. (1995). Preventing school failure, drug use, and delinquency among low-income children: Long-term intervention in elementary schools. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 65, 87–100.

Pianta, R. C. (2001). STRS: Student-teacher Relationship Scale: professional manual. Psychological Assessment Resources.
Pianta, R. (2001). Student–Teacher Relationship Scale–Short Form. Lutz, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc.

Ponitz, C. C., Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., Grimm, K. J., & Curby, T. W. (2009). Kindergarten classroom quality, behavioral engagement, and reading achievement. School Psychology Review, 38(1)

Silver, R. B., Measelle, J. R., Armstrong, J. M., & Essex, M. J. (2005). Trajectories of classroom externalizing behavior: Contributions of child characteristics, family characteristics, and the teacher–child relationship during the school transition. Journal of School Psychology, 43(1), 39-60.

Skinner, E. A., & Belmont, M. J. (1993). Motivation in the classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and student engagement across the school year. Journal of educational psychology, 85(4), 571.

Sutter, J., & Eyberg, S. (1984). Sutter-Eyberg Student Behavior Inventory. Department of Clinical and Health PsychologyUniversity of Florida, Gainesville, FL.
Sutton, S. E., Cowen, E. L., Crean, H. F., Wyman, P. A., & Work, W. C. (1999). Pathways to aggression in young, highly stressed urban children. Child Study Journal, 29(1), 49-67.

Teven, J. J., & McCroskey, J. C. (1997). The relationship of perceived teacher caring with student learning and teacher evaluation. Communication Education, 46(1), 1-9.

Wasson, A. S. (1981). Susceptibility to boredom and deviant behavior at school.Psychological Reports, 48(3), 901-902.

Webster-Stratton, C., Reid, M. J., & Hammond, M. (2001). Preventing conduct problems, promoting social competence: A parent and teacher training partnership in head start. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 30(3), 283-302.

Woodcock, R. W., & Johnson, M. B. (1989). Woodcock-Johnson tests of achievement. DLM Teaching Resources.